A khaatu-mithu thali
Ba Ni Rasoi, a restaurant at the newly opened Gujarat State Bhavan in Delhi, attempts to serve authentic homestyle delicacies
From outside, the newly opened Garvi Gujarat Bhawan on Delhi’s Akbar Road looks like a swanky palace. This is the second outpost for Gujarat in Delhi, and like all state bhawans in Delhi, is open only to ministers and governors and runs like a hotel, with pantries on each floor, conference rooms and banquets for meetings.
The restaurant, however, is open to the public. On a cold, wintry evening my husband and I saunter in, soaking in the lavish interiors of the lobby. The restaurant, Ba Ni Rasoi (which means “grandmother’s cooking"), gets its name from Mahatma Gandhi’s wife Kasturba, in honour of his 150th birth anniversary. The head chef, Saraiya Mitesh, walks to our table and greets us in Hindi. When we tell him we are Gujarati—a Surti and a Kathiawari—he breaks into a smile. “Kem cho (How are you)?" he asks.
Mitesh grew up in Bhavnagar—known for its delicious marcha (green chillies) and Bhavnagri gathiyas. With 19 years of experience at stand-alone restaurants and five-stars hotels, Mitesh is keen to feed Delhiites.
As we sip on nimboo pani to open the palate, he expands on his mission to conquer north Indian taste buds. “They are not used to our khaatu (sour),mithu(sweet) and tikkhu (spicy) food. They have a typical north Indian taste, which is creamy, and flavoured with the use of amchur (mango powder), anardana (pomegranate powder) and tomatoes. They don’t sweeten their food with sugar or jaggery like Gujaratis."
Before Ba Ni Rasoi, we had had the chance to relish Parsi food in the Capital at Rustom’s. Whipped up by Kainaz Contractor, her menu stays true to classics like Chicken Farcha, Keema Samosa, Sali Boti and Dhansak. In an earlier chat, she had explained, “When local Punjabi diners come to our restaurant for the first time, we recommend dishes that their palates will accept." Parsi food has taken much of its inspiration from Gujarati cuisine.
With places like Suruchi in Karol Bagh and Gujarati Samaj Santushi in Civil Lines still on our wish list, we are curious to find out how the meal will pan out at Ba Ni Rasoi.
Gujaratis have a community-style dining fare that begins with farsan (snacks), followed by main course and misthan (sweet). Farsan comprises either fried or steamed snacks with a tempering of sesame and mustard seeds. Our farsan platter has patra, dudhi na muthia, dhokla, methi na gota and dabeli.
Patra and dudhi na muthia are steamed favourites. Patra (colocasia leaves) are slathered with a seasoned layer of gram flour. This has the khattu-mithu balance of tamarind and sugar. The nutty taste of sesame adds flavour and texture. Dudhi na muthia is made with bottle gourd, rice and mixed pulses and finished with a tempering of mustard seeds.
White dhokla is an obvious introduction to the cuisine for first-timers. Its density depends on the amount of soda used to raise the fermented mix. It has the nostalgic comfort of the steamed snack garnished with red chilli powder, tempered with mustard and white sesame. For me, methi na gota brought back memories of my Kathiawari home town of Rajkot, where I polished off dozens of fried fenugreek fritters along with mirchi vada. The version at the restaurant is a bit too sweet, and the fire from the spices has largely been doused.
Dabeli of Kutch fame has a soft bread roll, called pav in western India. The pav is stuffed with a tamarind-spiked spicy potato mash and garnished with pomegranate arils and a sprinkle of sev. It needed more tang and spice to balance the sweetness. The saving grace is the chutneys—a coriander green and a deep-brown date and tamarind version.
Traditionally, home meals are eaten in stainless steel vessels, but special occasions call for kansa (bell-metal) thalis for the garam jamvanu (a hot meal). A server places spoon-fulls of red garlic or laal chutney, date chutney, cucumber and tomato salad on our kansa thalis.
The thali has a combination of vegetables, kadhi, roti and rice—ras vala bateta, undhiyu, sev tameta nu shaak and vatana nu shaak. The first is a staple delicacy of potato in a watery stew flavoured with kokum and jaggery, undhiyu comprises winter green vegetables, sev tameta nu shaak is a tangy dish of tempered tomatoes and sev and vatana nu shaak is a white peas dish. The kadhi is a thin concoction of buttermilk and gram flour, tempered with curry leaves and mustard seeds. These are paired with bajra ni bhakri, jowar roti, and wheat roti slathered with ghee. Papad, khichdi and mohan thaal (a sweet made from ghee, sugar and gram flour), complete the indulgence. Khichdi with some ghee and clove-flavoured kadhi is a comfort dish.
At this stage, it is imperative to learn the Gujarati word aagrah. It is the act of coaxing, almost forcing, the guest to accept another helping. The servers know the drill, and gently wheedle us to eat more.
The undhiyu is relished by the Kathiawari on the table but the Surti misses the leelu lasan (green garlic) and the fire from green chillies. While the food stays true to Gujarati flavours and many of the nuances remind us of home, it’s overly sweet and occasionally disturbs the flavour balance—Mitesh promises to make amends.
Garvi Gujarat Bhawan is on Akbar Road, South Block, Man Singh Road area, Delhi.
Phorum Dalal is a freelance travel and food journalist based in Mumbai and Delhi.
FIRST PUBLISHED28.02.2020 | 12:01 PM IST